Is the zombie craze about to come to an end?
It’s a legitimate question. The genre has been spreading like a zombie outbreak ever since Brian Keene released The Rising back in 2003 and breathed new life into a dead market, culminating in The Walking Dead. With the development of their hit series, AMC has succeeded in doing what no other television show, movie, or novel had accomplished before—making zombies mainstream. The series is one of the most watched programs on television, and the convention circuit and merchandising for The Walking Dead is an industry onto itself. Yet it’s the very popularity of a genre that often leads to its decline because success breeds imitation. While imitation is often the sincerest form of flattery, it’s also the best way to make a quick buck, which has led to a seemingly endless influx of zombie novels, movies, TV, shows, and video games.
Fans have been treated to some truly outstanding books (Patient Zero and World War Z), films (The Horde, Zombieland, and The Dead), and video games (Resident Evil, Dead Island, and Left 4 Dead). Unfortunately, we have also seen zombies placed in every scenario imaginable, facing off against strippers, cheerleaders, ninjas, cockneys, and even Abraham Lincoln. Enough zombie romances and comedies have entered the market to spawn the creation of their own subgenres, zomroms and zomcoms. The living dead have even made their way into TV commercials. Traditionally, once a horror icon becomes the subject of farce, its demise is inevitable. (A good case in point is Universal Studio’s cache of monsters from the 1930s and 1940s, all of whom lumbered through countless resurrections until permanently put to death by Abbott and Costello).
So does this overabundance of zombies in our culture mean the craze has burnt itself out and is about to subside?
Far from it. Zombies are different because they fill a niche no other monster is capable of.
Vampires, werewolves, and other ghoulish creatures and creepy crawlies will always thrill us. Vampires appeal to that dark erotic nature of our personalities that we keep bridled, while werewolves remind us of how violent and uncontrollable our subconscious truly is. The other monsters are adult manifestations of those things in the closet that scared us as kids. They are fantasy, and we don’t care. We sit in a darkened movie theater, or become engrossed in the pages of a novel until the late hours of the night, and relish what horrors await. We know that as long as the characters can survive to the end, then they will continue to live normal lives.
Zombies strike a chord with us because they tap into our deepest emotional and psychological fears.
First, there is an undertone of realism to the zombie genre that is terrifying. Despite exaggerated reports of Ebola victims rising from the dead or the ingestion of bath salts turning drug addicts into flesh-eating ghouls, no one honestly expects a zombie apocalypse. What is frightening about the scenario, however, is that it represents a total collapse of society as we know it and the breakdown of everything we hold dear. We didn’t create our own Hell by messing around with a Ouija board or a black and gold puzzle box. Factors beyond our control initiated the outbreak, and now we are forced to defend ourselves and our families as the living dead hunt us down in our own neighborhoods.
This scenario has been brought home to us repeatedly over the past decade by around-the-clock news, which has piped microcosms of the apocalypse into our homes. We sat glued to our television sets while watching the flood waters of Katrina inundate New Orleans and tsunamis devastate the coast of Japan. It took days, and in some cases weeks, before local and federal governments could enter the devastated areas and reestablish control. In the case of New Orleans, the devastation was accompanied by the collapse of the social order. Looters took advantage of the chaos. People had to fend for themselves in order to survive, sometimes against the local authorities. Our hearts went out to the victims of these natural disasters while a part of us breathed a sigh of relief that there but for the Grace of God goes us. The fear that zombies generate is that, if an outbreak ever did occur, we would suddenly become those nameless victims and would be forced to confront bitter realities about how we would react in such a situation.
Second, as strange as it sounds, a zombie apocalypse provides a grim hope for the future in the form of a “reset” button. All the seemingly insurmountable troubles we face disappear, and the playing field is leveled overnight. We’re no longer a part of the 1% or the 99%, a liberal or a conservative, a payer of taxes or a recipient of a government subsidy, a member of the elitist upper class or the struggling working class. All of our debts, our past mistakes, and our concerns would be wiped out overnight. Our possessions and social status would become irrelevant. All that would matter would be our strengths and abilities, and the direction in which our moral compass points.
One of my favorite zombie movies is Zack Snyder’s 2004 reimaging of Dawn of the Dead because of its portrayal of how ordinary people would react during a total collapse of the social order. Would we become Anna or Michael, who try to maintain their humanity even after losing everything dear to them? Would we become Kenneth, who opts to look out only for himself? Would we become CJ, the mall security guard who turns away the survivors because “no one here is infected and I intend to keep it that way?” Or would we be Tucker or Frank, the nameless faces that blend into the background and merely go on existing, only to become the red shirts of the survivors? Confronting how we would behave in such a situation can be scarier than dealing with the zombies.
The struggle between surviving and maintaining some semblance of humanity is what the genre is all about (combined, of course, with some intense gut-munching, head shooting action and buckets of blood and gore.) We will be entertained by an occasional zomcom, or a zombie falling in love with a teenage girl or being a boy’s loyal pet. We might even have to endure zombies that glitter in the sunlight. However, as long as fans are terrified by the end of the world, then zombies will always provide them with a frightening and exciting why to exploit that angst.
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The stench of frozen flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Winter of Zombie Blog Tour 2015, with 40+ of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of November.
Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser…and pick up some great swag as well!
Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them!
#WinterofZombie is the hashtag for Twitter, too!